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Mass. Firefighters Press on Search

December 11, 1999

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) _ Backhoes halted. Searchers combing through rubble for the remains of four firefighters ceased working. Families gathered in the pelting rain.

At 6:13 p.m. Friday _ a week to the instant that the first alarm summoned firefighters to a vacant warehouse where six would die _ searchers and the families of those killed in the blaze paused for a minute of silence, which was followed by a bagpiper playing ``Amazing Grace.″

The search for the remains of the missing men then resumed, and fire officials announced that the blaze, which had smoldered all week, had finally been extinguished.

The firefighters died Dec. 3 after two became lost in the burning warehouse looking for homeless people believed to be inside. The others died trying to save them.

The remains of a third body were discovered Friday.

A homeless couple has been charged with causing the blaze by knocking over a candle during an argument. They have pleaded innocent to involuntary manslaughter.

About 10 mobile homes have been brought in to shelter the work crews at the site. They stand alongside some three dozen tents used for cooking, storage and sleeping. There’s even a massage tent for exhausted crews.

``We are here for the long-term,″ said Brian Duggan, chief of the Northampton Fire Department, one of 150 communities that have sent fire apparatus and personnel.

Support for the firefighters’ families continued to pour in. Nearly $1.25 million had been received at the Firefighters Fund, an account set up by the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester.

Outside the red brick warehouse, a parked fire truck that had been turned into a shrine for the men continued to grow with piles of flowers, balloons, teddy bears and poems.

``Our 5-year-old son wanted to give this to you,″ read one note, taped to a toy fire engine. ``Our thoughts and prayers are with you all. You are truly heroes to everyone.″

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